The Total Art of Market Stalinism
The anglo-architectural part of the internet has been agog today at a proposal for a public sculpture as part of the London Olympics - a gigantic, red steel Tatlin's towerish spiral (with the accent on the tat, as one wag had it). Irrespective of aesthetics - personally, I like absurd follies, and there's no doubt this is one - it's of interest for its unashamed glorification of industrial power in its most personalised form. In its ungainly name, the 'ArcelorMittal Orbit' it incarnates its sponsor, the prolific downsizer and procurer of political favours, the steel firm owner Lakshmi Mittal, Europe's richest man. There was, however, rather recently another public art project which used the image, if not the name, of this man of steel - in Nowa Huta, a planned Stalin-era steeltown in Poland, on the outskirts of Krakow, itself downsized first by its own trade union and then by Mittal, who essentially owns what's left of it, and dominates it in a rather more invisible fashion than Stalin or Boleslaw Bierut used to.
The images in this post are from a project on Nowa Huta and Wolfsburg, called 'Industrial Town Futurismus', and more specifically they are an action called 'remote_control' by Markus Bader and Jan Liesegang. Seeing as Mittal and his firm's dominance of Nowa Huta is as total as that of Bierut and his Politburo, why not put up posters of him on the sides of the buildings? Moreover, Mittal's Brezhnev-like visage, his relentless gaze forward, is unnervingly apt for the purpose. The point, of course, is that those who own the means of production are not so crass today as to resort to such straightforward faciality, to the domineering face of power, which makes the use of Mittal's graven image so striking. On the contrary, they get an engineer and sculptor of the wilfully abstract and spectacular - step forward Cecil Balmond and Anish Kapoor - to provide an 'aspirational', 'iconic' but deliberately meaningless, non-figurative edifice for them instead. It's not a change of great sophistication or subtlety.